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United Way of Lancaster County


‘A full-circle moment’: A Q&A with Union Community Care board chair Cindy Stewart

Cindy Stewart (Source: Provided)

Cindy Stewart has an extensive history serving in the healthcare and social service sectors.

Early this year, she was appointed board chair of Union Community Care, replacing David Kreider. She has served on the board since 2019 and previously was board secretary.

Stewart, a former health care executive, has more than 30 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, including important roles with the two entities that merged to form Union Community Care in 2021: Lancaster Health Center and Welsh Mountain Health Centers. Stewart was Welsh Mountain’s executive director in the 1980s and provided human resources consulting to Lancaster Health Center in the 2010s.

Her appointment to lead the board “feels like a full-circle moment,” she said. “… I look forward to helping each board member find their voice to fulfill our mission.”

Stewart is currently chief human resources officer at Lancaster-based nonprofit lender Community First Fund. In 2017, she was the Republican candidate for mayor of Lancaster.

One United Lancaster: What made you interested in working in the health services field?

Cindy Stewart: My first job out of school was for a community action program in Lancaster. I used my business degree to serve on their bookkeeping staff and finance department. Later, I found my way to Welsh Mountain Medical Center when the finance director position opened.

I was their finance director for about a year and a half when I was asked to serve as their executive director. This set my path right into motion.

OUL: Could you tell me more about your role at Welsh Mountain Health Centers?

Stewart: I served at Welsh Mountain from January 1981 to October 1989. I enjoyed working there as it taught me about leadership, managing staff, procuring funds, and asking for money. Important things to learn as the leader of a not-for-profit.

OUL: Following Welsh Mountain Healthcare, what experience did you gain from your position at Family Services Lancaster and the Family Health Council of Central PA?

Stewart: After working in health services for the first 10 years of my career, I shifted to behavioral health at Pressley Ridge (formerly Family Services Lancaster). (Editor’s note: Stewart served as President/CEO at Family Service Lancaster from October 1988 to May 1999.)

Family Services Lancaster ran almost as a social work program with services that attended to teen pregnancy prevention, individual counseling, and adoptions. I liked being able to help others navigate family services and gain public dollars through fundraising campaigns.

I moved on to Family Health Council in 1999, serving as the president and CEO for 16 years. This focused less on clinical care and more on creating environments or funding streams that broader public health programs directed towards small communities.

We managed health programs like family planning, women’s breast cancer care, and WIC, HIV AIDS case management for 24 counties in central Pennsylvania. I loved bridging the gap between state and federal representatives, addressing policy, and advocating to for solutions.

OUL: How did your experience working with individuals and families of Lancaster County shape your campaign/policy when running for mayor?

Stewart: I retired in June of 2015 and began discerning next steps. (In November 2016), Rick Gray, Lancaster’s mayor, decided not to run again. I ran for mayor so that there would be another voice.

I wasn’t a politician. At my core, I’m an administrator. I had lived in the city for 22 years with the Democrats being in control for a long time.

Trump had just gotten elected and being Republican was not as appreciated, especially in a Democratic city. I thought I ran an honorable campaign and brought a different perspective, blending my experience as an executive with my love for the city. I wanted to provide choices in policy that people could see themselves making.

Some ideas I suggested then have been implemented in our community today. I had put forward a community engagement idea to connect our communities, especially those that felt like they had been disenfranchised from the whole process.

I thought Danene Sorace and her team ran a good campaign and we respected each other for that.

OUL: I understand you currently work with Community First Fund. Can you explain the focus of this organization?

Stewart: At Community First Fund, we provide loans to people who traditional banks would not find as acceptable clients. This is done through federal government funds and designations as a community development financial institution, CDFI, making us eligible for grants through the U.S. Treasury.

We receive quite a few investments from banks who need to meet their community reinvestment requirements and might lend us the money at a low interest rate. With the way our funding structure works, we have flexibility in what we’re able to approve and lend.

We do our own fundraising, make money off our loan portfolio, and provide loans with interest attached that make revenue for us. It’s exciting that Community First Fund is in the Lancaster, Reading, Harrisburg, York, Allentown, and Philadelphia communities, where the investment of capital in small businesses transforms communities.

OUL: What is your role as the board chair at Union Community Care? How do you plan on leading the board? What ideas do you want to implement moving forward?

Stewart: It felt natural to move towards board involvement after retirement. I first served on the Bright Side Opportunity Center board, which led to my current involvement with Milagro House and Union Community Care as board chair.

My experience as a board chair is a facilitator of strategic thinking. In a good operating board, your CEO is responsible for the creating an environment of conversation that can address the everyday details of running a health center. I tend to lead by utilizing the power of the board directors, which helps to bring out the best in people who are engaged around me.

It’s important to create a space for consumers to discuss operational details and questions with the board so that their voice is heard. A high functioning board’s role is to interact with members of the community to set a strategic direction for the CEO.

OUL: How are you hoping to improve the lives of low-income individuals and communities (through Union Community Care)?

Stewart: It’s multifaceted. There are several elements that influence an individual or community’s ability to rise up, either from poverty, discrimination, or social injustices. I think it’s important to help members in our community gain access to the opportunities that they rightfully deserve. While my past work experience and current ties with Union Community Care focused on health care access, utilizing other services in our community is equally important. For example, Milagro House has access to education, while Community First Fund provides access to capital.

OUL: Union Community Care is considered a federally qualified health center. What does that mean?

Stewart: That began as a community health center movement guided by legislation. By meeting certain criteria, we’re able to receive federal designations and grants to help medically underserved individuals in areas of higher poverty and higher needs. Our goal is to create access for all.

I see Union Community Care as being an integral partner in elevating both the Lancaster and Lebanon communities. Our holistic approach to health care is unique. We just don’t transactionally treat patients. We understand the environments in which they live and dig deeper into much more than just the problem we’re presented with.

As a community health center, we make sure everyone has access to care, regardless of their ability to pay health insurance coverage or economic standing. It’s some of the best care that we have in the county, open to everyone.

Community health centers are located throughout the city in a walking distance. You don’t have to drive 30 minutes out to the suburbs to get your medical care.

The Groff Event Center, 234 W. Orange St. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

OUL: Can you tell me more about Union Community Care’s expansion and its future with the Groff Events Center building?

Stewart: We purchased the Groff Event Center and are rebranding it as the Lancaster Center City Office. We’re excited about moving forward and having it as a key hub in the city for medical and dental services and administrative headquarters.

The Groff Event Center was owned by the Groffs, a values-centered family that has been committed to the people of this community for years. We’re grateful and thankful that we were able to fit the profile that the Groffs wanted and be in a financial position to purchase the building and capitalize on it.

Union Community Care honors the Groff legacy as we provide vital community service with the intent of increasing access for all.